The return of scrunchies and shoulder pads and the popularity of throwback shows such as “Stranger Things” left you pining for the 1980s?
Now there’s a place you can go to actually relive the days when your hair was as big as your ambitions.
Totally 80s Rewind, an exhibition at Living Computers: Museum + Labs in Seattle allows visitors to step into the world of an ’80s teen and test out the technology of the decade.
“What I wanted to do was to create an experience where people could come in and rather than reading about a computer they could just sit down and just enjoy it within its context,” says curator Aaron Alcorn.
He says the exhibit follows the day (or at least a sanitized version) of a typical ’80s teen – from sitting in a computer lab at school to hanging out at a retro video game arcade to playing video games in a friend’s basement, surrounded by ET toys and mini-Deloreans.
Technology with a twist
“The museum was open to the public in 2012 – and the idea of the place is that it’s based on a simple philosophy that, if you want to understand computers and computing history, then you should probably use them,” says Alcorn.
It has a modern tech and VR section, but the focus is on the vintage technology from microcomputers to mainframe and mini computers.
No detail is spared in the Totally 80s Rewind exhibit.
The classroom has a retro linoleum floor and there’s even gum stuck under the desks. The computers have been carefully restored to ensure they’re as usable today as they would’ve been back when Ferris Bueller was skipping school.
In the video games arcade all the machines are free but visitors still must drop tokens into the slot, as if they were coins, for the full experience.
The 1980s theme is timely, says Alcorn.
“At the moment we’re just at this kind of cultural moment, right now, where there’s an appreciation and almost a nostalgia for everything from the 1980s,” reflects Alcorn – citing “Stranger Things” and the book-turned-recent-movie “Ready Player One.”
In the friends’ basement display, visitors can play with original Nintendo and Atari consoles or listen to records from the era.
“This would be some place where a teenager or a family would hang out and enjoy,” says Alcorn. “The experience is just to be able to go in there and just use the room.”
When the museum first opened its doors, Alcorn says it mostly attracted what he and his colleagues affectionately term “graying geeks.”
“As we’ve expanded, we have attracted more families with children. So we get a lot of inter-generational audiences that come through,” he says.
Teenagers love the novelty, parents love the nostalgia – it’s a winning combination.
Alcorn and his team are thrilled its a hit, although the international attention has taken them by surprise, even if it wasn’t without precedent.
“Whenever we did a preview of the exhibit for members of the museum they came in the evening and some members left the exhibit misty eyed because they had an opportunity to share with their children what their childhood was like,” recalls Alcorn. “I had never seen a response like that to an exhibit.”
As well as the ’80s memorabilia, the museum has many other usable technology from the early days of computers.
Among them is an IBM 7090 mainframe computer, a model that was featured in the book and the film “Hidden Figures” about pioneering African-American women at NASA.
The Totally ’80s Rewind exhibition was scheduled to close in December 2018, but Alcorn says it’ll probably remain open into 2019.
“I think we’re going to have to extend it,” says Alcorn. “I mean the downside is we’ll just be able to keep bring more joy.”